Heard melodies are sweet, but unheard melodies are sweeter still, said the poet. It was perhaps sweet music to the ears of industry when the prime minister told 11 of India Inc’s biggest and brightest that the government seeks only to penalise the corrupt, and is not turning on industry in general. Industry would like it even better, if the government were to announce measures to bring composure to the polity that has turned febrile, with protests roiling campuses and bringing middle-class professionals on to the streets, disrupting normal life, across the land.

Make no mistake, what India is witnessing today is political instability. Growth and prosperity call for political stability. No one wants to undertake big-ticket investments in the midst of turmoil. More than any tax break or investment subsidy that the Budget may or may not announce, what Indian business, and Indians in general, would like to hear from the government is a declaration of commitment to restore the normalcy of political stability.

Lack of Trust in State…

It is a common mistake to confuse political stability with the stability of the incumbent regime. A government with an absolute majority is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce political stability.

No government in India in the last four decades had as big a majority as Rajiv Gandhi had in 1984. Yet, he presided over a very unstable polity. Khalistani separatism raged in Punjab, Assam was ablaze with the anti-foreigner agitation, till he doused it with the Assam Accord, trouble was brewing in Kashmir, a divisive mobilisation to raze the mosque built by Babar at Ayodhya was building up communal tension across north India and the Tamil Tigers were on the prowl in the south — all this, before the Bofors allegations stripped him of legitimacy.

The Narasimha Rao government began as a minority government. It held elections in Punjab and Kashmir, stability was returned to the northeast, the crackdown on the Tigers saw their activity banished to Sri Lanka.

Yes, tension simmered after the demolition of the Babri mosque, but communal riots ceased for the rest of the decade after 1993.

A fragile regime presided over relative political stability, whereas a regime that enjoyed brute majority was undermined by political instability. People must have faith in the government for them to acquiesce in its decisions. If people begin to distrust the State, social cohesion, without which the nation cannot move forward, begins to fray.

Today, there is a deficit of trust: in data on jobs, in the numbers put out by the government on economic growth, and on the intent behind new laws. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has galvanised distrust as very few things have. The government says that the only intent of the amendment is to give relief to those who have fled to India from neighbouring countries out of religious persecution. A lot of people believe that the intent is to undermine the citizenship rights of Muslims, who were left out of the religious groups eligible for refuge and citizenship under the amendment.

…Breeds Instability

That distrust flows from the experience of creating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which has stripped 19 lakh people of citizenship. Senior ministers and leaders of the ruling party have asserted their intention to carry out a nationwide NRC, and throw out infiltrators, calling them termites, but would implement CAA before implementing NRC.

The only logical conclusion to be drawn is that CAA is intended to shield non-Muslim groups from any threat of exclusion when NRC is carried out, by giving them scope to be accommodated under the amended citizenship Act.

Recently, the prime minister declared at a rally that the government has not discussed the details of NRC and, therefore, there was no reason to link CAA with NRC. But this is not sufficient to remove suspicions about the intent behind CAA. If there were no link between CAA and NRC, why would the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report on CAA mention NRC 53 times, and why would senior leaders talk about the intended ‘chronology’ or sequencing of the two?

Here are some suggestions to make sweeter music. Announce proceeding with CAA only after it has been cleared by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. In the interim, pass a law on refugees and their path to citizenship, in accordance with the relevant UN charter, without reference to religion and with all-party support, and grant relief to those seeking it.

Institute a mechanism for foreign nationals to enter India on work permits: the bulk of immigrants are economic migrants, not infiltrators. Shut down the vituperative rhetoric on NRC and declare that an NRC would be created only after arriving at political consensus on the its norms and characteristics. Renotify the National Population Register removing all references to NRC and without additional fields as compared to the 2010 and 2016 NPR exercises.

This would restore trust, not belligerence or armed goons on the rampage on campuses.

Source link